What You Can Learn from the Homeless.
Everyone has a Story. Today we learned about survival on the streets of DC. We’d shared soup, water, hats, earmuffs, and clean socks with several people in Chinatown. We shared Free HUGS too. We made our way up Pennsylvania Avenue.
And then we met a very wise woman. In 20 minutes we learned what it’s like to live on the streets of DC for 22 years.
She sat on the edge of the bench, a smile on her face and this twinkle in her eyes. Flannel shirt buttoned over several layers, woolen hat under a colorful scarf. We approached her with smiles.
She spoke first, “How are y’all today?”
Micha answers, “just fine, we’ve brought some gifts to share if ya want.”
Her smile grows wider. “What ya got?”
I answer with a smile too, “Well, the soup is gone, but I’ve got granola bars and a pair of clean socks and a HUG if you want one.” Micha, Cha Cha and Rosanna chime in, “I’ve got bottled water and a half a sandwich. It’s Italian.”
“Hmm, what meat’s in there? Cuz, I can’t eat pork, makes me sick and I can’t afford to be sick out here.” She says this all with a big smile.
“I think it’s got salami and some other meats. If you don’t want it, it’s fine, I can share it with someone else.”
Rosanna chimes in, “I have some hats, I see you already have one, but if you need another…”
“Oh you can always use another, never know when one might get wet or something.” Rosanna hands her a hat and she tucks it into a bag in her cart.
Micah asks, “What’s your name?”
“Hi, Sylvia.” we all say back.
“Sylvia, would you like a Free Hug?”
“Oh yes, Yes. I love hugs. I hug people when I can. Don’t get much human contact out here.” She stands up, she is shorter than I am and she starts to giggle, “I’m all bundled up like a little polar bear.” We both laugh. We hug each other tight. “Sylvia, you are a good hugger.” Then she hugs Micha and Cha Cha and Rosanna.
Conversation continues as she shares what it’s like to be on the streets. “Been here 22 years. It’s hard out here. A lot of the services are gone. I do what I can to help others know where to go to get the help that’s still available. But some people don’t want the help. They use drugs or they drink. Some people help each other, some keep all that help for themselves. Why they do that? We all human. We all can help each other. You never know when you might need help. You might be back out here too.
My Momma taught me to have manners to use my manners. Someone give yous something, you say Thank you. Say Please. I see some people they just take and go. That ain’t nice. You be grateful. You say, Yes Sir and yes, Ma’am. It don’t cost nothing to use manners.”
We all agree.
“You know Education is real important. You don’t have an education, you can’t pull yourself up the ladder. I try to read a little something every day. I try to learn something our there. But, I’ll tell you something. I ain’t ashamed to say it. I only went up to the first grade.”
I interject, “well, there’s different kinds of education. Seems to me you’ve got a lot of knowledge being able to survive out here for 22 years.”
She smiles. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. I learned a lot being out here. Some people they help you. You know I don’t beg much. I only do that when I really need to. Like if I need to take the metro somewhere and it’s just too far to walk with this cart. I only ask when I really need something. Some people they just too proud to ask. Some people they just ask and they don’t even appreciate. Don’t cost nothing to say Thank you.
You know they used to be a school near here, but it closed. They should open that up again. Lots of us would go to learn. Adult classes, open ‘em up to us.”
She tells us about the hypothermia centers that open in the winter and how there was an offer for housing for homeless last year but she missed out on hearing about it.
“How do you hear about things?” Cha Cha asks.
“Well, we try to tell each other. Or some of us do. You hear about something, you tell somebody. But some people wanna keep it all to themselves, they don’t wanna help nobody but themselves. Me, I always share information when I hear it. We supposed to help each other.”
“Yes, we are all human beings.” As I say this, I look at us, African American, Asian, Latina and Caucasian. Indeed we are ALL human beings.
We ask her where other homeless tend to be and she shares several locations throughout the city. She’s definitely a wealth of information and she is so willing to speak with us and to share. And her eyes smile the entire time.
Micah offers his contact information and tutoring in case she does go to school. I tell her I’d love to speak with her again and I encourage her to stop in at the library. “Are the homeless accepted at the library, is it an OK place to go. Maybe you could read a bit there. We had homeless at our library and sometimes I would sit and read with them.”
She says they sometimes go in to keep warm. But she has her cart and that makes it a challenge.
We thank her for being so kind and open and tell her how much we’ve learned from speaking with her.
“May I hug you again before we leave?” I ask, with my arms open wide.
“Oh yes, of course. Yes.” She stands up again.
“You know I wasn’t hugged much as a child so I’m making up for it now.” I say.
“Oh, me too, me too.”
“I will look for you again. I’d definitely like to speak to you another time.”
We squeeze each other a little tighter. And then she opens her arms and hugs Micha, Cha Cha and Rosanna.
“God Bless you all,” she says as we say goodbye.
God Bless you too.
What can YOU learn from opening your heart and sharing conversation? I’d love to hear.
Hugs from my heart to yours,